..First Glyph

March 4
4:30 p.m.

Over my right shoulder a young man bellows out a song through a ragged untrained voice. He strums a guitar. For a few measures a saxophone accompanies. The music and the singing ring off the brick walls and glass storefronts around. The saxophone then stops. The untrained voice then stops. Now the musicians recline under their short arcade of brick. I can hear their banter. They laugh. They recline behind me, over my right shoulder. They dissolve there because I sit on a bench facing away from them. I'm positioned in Guadalajara's Plaza Tapatia. The bench faces a fountain founting no water. Two days ago that fountain founted water. Now it does not.

I scribble on this bench waiting for this shadow to creep over me. The sun is hot. The sun burns my ear. I chose this seat anticipating the relief from this creeping shadow. When I first sat the shadow was some five feet from me. Now the shadow nudges my elbow.

To sit in a plaza to scribble these notes seems obvious. So why have I not done so before? Always over coffee I scribble these notes. Always on my hotel bed I scribble them. Not a complaint, really. A pondering.

And watch this shadow creep. And already at my shoulder it arrives. The late afternoon light recedes. The five o'clock sun relaxes.

There is the technical difficulty of scribbling these entries in a plaza. I have no clipboard for this scribbling the way I do for my note-taking. The paper for these entries comes out of a completely separate sheaf of looseleaf. A different size it is, and too long for my clipboard. With nothing hard against which to press my pen, I usually wait until I can get to the counter of some Sanborns, or can utilize the telephone book on my hotel bed. Sometimes there is a desk in the hotel room.

Singers sing again. More than a single untrained voice now. Two days ago these singers sang, too. I was strolling through this plaza then, on reconnaissance, in search of the right elements for some descriptions. Bohemian types, these singers. They peddle incense, I saw. They peddle small leather adornments and beadwork. They recline in their loose garments passing the time in song and cigarettes. And...

My ears at last cool. I no longer squint. The shadow blankets me.

The sheet of paper upon which I scribble these words rests upon the sheaf of paper from which I drew it. This is the hard surface against which I press my pen. It was not so safe to do this in Mexico City plazas. That almost-assault in La Alameda my evidence. And in Queretaro I felt too conspicuous to concentrate. The benches there are so few. Always I sensed a pair of envious eyes casing me in Queretaro, some old man's nates scheming to supplant my own. Not the same danger in Guadalajara as in Mexico. Neither that conspicuous feeling.

Three men weighted down with heavy black bags labeled "TV Azteca" scuffle by. A fourth shoulders obvious television hardware--camera, tripod. He follows. Each slogs under his burden. Something's happening at the far reaches of this plaza. I cannot descry it. Something cultural, I think.

What a beauty, this girl! Degas painting earthy brocade. Watch her swivel-hip! Oh, Dulcinea!

In Tonala today, another technical difficulty. Sometimes I find exactly what I am looking for and then spend just as much time looking for a post from which to observe it. Sometimes I find exactly what I am looking for and then end up giving up that exact something because I can find no post from which to observe it. Sometimes I end up taking notes on a second choice simply because it is easier to stake out, to stalk. For example, I wanted to describe a newspaper kiosk in Mexico City. To do so I could not just amble up to the nearest kiosk and crouch down in front of it for thirty minutes jotting its many details. People become nervous when you do this. People fear you're hatching some vandalism when you do this, or some violence of explosive or handgun. Askance, they look. Policemen approach. Girls quiz you on top of tall buildings. I prowled instead across a narrow street from the kiosk. I leaned against a column beside a flowerbed. My position pretended the time-passer, the bus- misser, the friend-waiter. But I was not. I was examining the scores of magazines clothespinned together, the garish covers swagging from the small tin roof, the sensational typography. "The Dead Shall Not Vote!" one headline cried. This was pinned next to a hard-nippled woman in a tight red bikini. A bored man huddled within it all, as if a rabbit in a hutch.

A passing woman answers her boy: "Heepees," articulating. This is the pronunciation for "hippies" in Spanish. It is spelled jipis.

Over my shoulder, I glance. A Scandinavian among them now. Or a northern European. A German, maybe, a Norwegian. Of fair fair skin, he is, this one, with blond blond hair. He plays the guitar with great gestic gusto.

Think of someone sitting across the street from your home. They sit on the opposite curb. They sit on that opposite curb staring at your home. They scribble down notes and notes. People get paranoid, you know. You can't do it. You have to find a place to observe without being observed in your observing. In a public place, in a tourist area this is not so difficult. But elsewhere... Sometimes I pretend to view one thing while really studying another. Occasionally you can't even do this. Occasionally you have to ghost through a locale and just take mental notes and then pen them down afterward. Just today, I had to do this. In Tonala. A technical difficulty.

The saxophone. Blues. The guitar joins. He has enough command, this sax player, to evoke depth.

In Tonala I found no post from which to observe.

Dreadlocks the saxophonist wears. Black-a-vised, he is, dark. And listen! Listen to him! Three men in business suits halt before me midstride. A woman holding a four-year- old boy's hand halts near me midstride. Movement on this corner of the plaza halts, altogether, midstride. A lank girl in a long skirt rises. She scuttles in her sandals from the bohemians over to the men in suits. She begs pesos for their pleasure. The men won't take their eyes off the dark young musician in dreadlocks. The men can't move. The men are transfixed. But still they refuse to give pesos. Bad form. If you stop to listen to street musicians, if you stop to enjoy street musicians, you give. Something. Anything. If you don't have the heart to give, if you can't give, you don't stop. As suddenly as it started then the tremolo stops. I gaze over my shoulder. The sax-player is shaking his head. The sax-player is smiling blissfully as he lays down his horn. He smiles as if easing out of some rapture, out of some afflatus. The men in suits close now their gaping mouths. Freed, now, they've been. They move to continue on. One of them hugs a black bag that has the TV Azteca emblem on it. They continue on toward that event at the far reaches of the plaza, toward that cultural event at the far reaches of the plaza.

And a Balthus. She peers back at me. Her mother pulls her along. Her brown skirt hikes. Oh, virgin nymph!

Bongos now. Solo. There is only stone about and glass shop windows. To my unrefined ears the acoustics please. But no one joins the bongos.

I will not call Guadalajara the place where I will live someday. I think I call every place I tour the place where I will live someday. I don't know where I will live someday. It is pointless, anyway, to ponder the question. I will have no real perspective until well after journey's end.

The bongos cease.

I want an ice cream.

Tonala market: Colorwheel. Tuba chatter. Frying taco meat. That weightless current of life. Life-essence unchecked, flowing, animated, electric. Warm swirling airs. And the trees whose thin shadows were blue instead of black.

Bongos again. Saxophone lightly, unseriously.

An ambulant vender croons of different flavors of chewing gum. Tall, he walks, but his countenance woeful.

Saxophone grows serious now. And see the people halt in their steps! See the people with their long looks of wonder! He pierces these people, this dark young man, rivets them. And finishing his poem then, he lets the masses continue on, reluctantly continue on. How must it feel to do that? To bewitch souls? A power! He is barefoot. He is blissfully beaming.

Problem four: stasis. Tourists generally move in groups, and, generally, they keep moving. A galloping herd of wildebeests is a more difficult target than some unmoving rodent. I am an unmoving rodent. I can stall for as long as ninety minutes in one place, gathering my notes. Jackal fare, I would seem. I keep my backpack in my lap, though. And the very nature of my note-gathering means a hyper-awareness of my surroundings. These my safeguards.

I just re-read this entry to the accompaniment of the bongo.

An older woman in a lavender print dress lounges among the bohemians. She hawks round crocheted hats. She bounces her left foot.

The whole plaza lies in shadow.

A man zigzags over the walk, sing-songing his snack tray of delicious donuts. He's squat under a floppy hat.

And the walls of my hotel are thin. It is a very loud hotel, thus, reverberant. Last night I listened to one of my fellow guests fucking his mistress. And I listened then as they watched television. Last night I listened to one of my fellow guests fucking his mistress. And I listened then as they spoke of his wife.

Maybe another sex episode would wrest me from this funk, another mugging. Maybe I should be careful of what I hope for.


John Dishwasher

The Gods of Our Fathers